Tuesday, 20 March 2012
On Alan Moore & Travis Charest's "WildC.A.T.s" #28
In a thousand-page doorstop collection of Alan Moore's finest work, WildC.A.T.s wouldn't even deserve a mention as an also-ran. But it's impossible to conceive of an Alan Moore comic that's entirely without distinction. This week's piece in The Year In Comics series over at Sequart - find it here - discusses the unavoidable smartness which underpins the often slack'n'slapdash widescreen-o-rama that's Moore's WildC.A.T.s.
It's remarkable how often today's mainstream comic-book mirrors the form of the fifteen scripts by Moore which span out the adventures of superhero knock-offs Grifter, Spartan, Zealot and co. We so often assume that the root of 2012's standard-issue, thin'n'stupid comic can be found in a corruption of Ellis and Hitch's work on The Authority matched with the fan-onanisms of the early Image book. Yet Moore's work on Wild C.A.T.s, and in particular his last half-a-year on the title, fits the bill far more precisely. His attempts to work within the default-flatulent Image style while unavoidably informing his scripts with his intellectual ambitions seems the model for the limp storytelling later adopted by far less adroit, far less inspired, and far more callow scribblers. Replace Moore's smarts with a smear or two of pretension, retain the overstretched-for-their-own-sake superheroics, and there we have it; the brave new comics world of 2012.
The page above, from WC#28, is perhaps the most exquisite example of storytelling in Moore's entire run on the title. It's a glorious example of a skill that's been almost entirely lost in today's mainstream, namely that of constructing a page which is appropriately composed of a sequence of widescreen horizontal panels. It's a design which also stands as Travis Charest's finest contribution to the series. Rather than simply, and simple-mindedly, presuming that the horizontal panel's always a good idea because it shares a similar frame to a modern TV, both writer and artist recognise the importance of the rule of thirds. The eye inevitably reads such an elongated panel in three sections, and here the central third of the frame is left purposefully empty. That repeatedly emphasises the lack of communication between the team-members on their space-craft's deck, accentuating how great the alienation between Lord Emp and Warblade is. At the same time, the sequence's background subtly signals how monumental and fascinating the ship's return to Earth from orbit is, meaning that the scale of the distance travelled by it is constantly being contrasted by the inability of the characters to move even an inch towards each other. Even in the presence of an experience as awe-inspiring as this, and even after all the recent disillusionment that the WildC.A.T.s have suffered, the two of them remain entirely estranged. Incredible things are happening around them, and none of them can find a single word to share.
The manipulation of time here is fantastically impressive. The abnormally broad gutters, which create the sense that the voyage down to the surface has taken far longer than a succession of four normally-divided panels would, transmit the air of a painful, lonesome silence, of colleagues who've lost their common purpose and thereby their friendship. In that, the page's design fulfils a specific and story-furthering purpose which no other composition could. Though the composition contains so many aspects associated with the very worst of modern-era books, from the frame-type to the cut'n'paste static figures, it's an example of the very finest comics storytelling. It even succeeds in recasting that most familiar of super-book scenes - the descent of a spacecraft to Earth - in a new and fascinating form.
Alan Moore's WildC.A.T.s contains fitful flashes of brilliance mired in page after page of Image-era storytelling sludge. But the brilliance is there, which is more than might be said for the vast majority of superhero books. In every medium, in every genre, the rule of thumb that's Sturgeon's Law always applies, and that can be true of a single run of a comic such as WildC.A.T.s as much as anything else. 90% of Moore's work on the title might well be, in Sturgeon's words, "crud", but the other 10% is inspirationally fine, and well worth the persevering for.